Edgar Allan Poe: Psychopathology and Mystery

Edgar Allan Poe: Psychopathology and Mystery

Edgar Allan Poe is for many the best horror and mystery writer of the 19th century. Like so many other authors, his work was not recognized in life. He suffered economic hardships and led an unfortunate life. He suffered mental disorders, which decisively influenced his work. His poem "The Raven" and some of his stories such as "The Black Cat", "The Well and the Pendulum" or "The Fall of the Usher House" are considered masterpieces of the horror genre. Edgar Allan Poe is the champion of the Gothic subcultural movement.


  • 1 childhood
  • 2 Youth: An unstable character
  • 3 Happiness lasts shortly
  • 4 A mysterious death
  • 5 Alcohol in the life of Poe
  • 6 Was Edgar Allan Poe epileptic?
  • 7 Bipolar disorder
  • 8 Theories about his death


Little could they assume, David Poe and his young wife Elisabeth Arnold, that the baby who had just been born, would be considered for generations to come, as a master of the literary genre of terror.

The young parents were fans of the theater. They represented "King Lear" by William Shakespeare, in a Boston theater. For this reason, that cold January 19, 1809, did not hesitate a moment to put the creature that had just been born, under the sign of Capricorn, the name of one of the protagonists of the play: Edgar.

Years later, the great French poet Baudelaire wrote that Edgar Allan Poe was born with the sign of misfortune, engraved on his forehead. A year after his father was born, he abandoned the family. Soon, his mother died of tuberculosis. Edgar was orphaned, with his two brothers. The older brother was adopted by his grandparents in Baltimore. Edgar went on to live with Jhon Alan and Frances, a marriage of Richmond. These were friends from another marriage, who welcomed their little sister.

In this family, he spent the best years of his life. Although they welcomed him, they did not adopt him. They did give him his last name and it was renamed Edgar Allan Poe. At six years old Edgar moved with his new family to England. He lived first in Scotland and later in London. At age 11 he returned to the United States again. There received an education in the best schools.

"The black cat" one of his most famous stories

Youth: An unstable character

In the various internships he went through, he soon showed his qualities as a writer. Also exhibited a strong impulsive character. He was unstable in his mood, irritable and contentious when excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol caused him not a few problems and was one of the reasons he broke relations with his stepfather, after being expelled from a school and the West Point Military Academy. His mother became seriously ill, but his stepfather, angry at him, did not warn him of death until after the funeral. Poe arrived at his stepmother's grave and fell faded by pain.

He went to live with an aunt, He fell in love with his cousin, Virginia Clemm, and married her in secret, falsifying the documentation, because her cousin was only 13 years old. At twenty-two, I was already writing short stories impregnated with terror and fantasy. Your inconstancy at work, the fond of drinking caused frequent layoffs and jobs happened in different newspapers and magazines. He lived with economic hardships, because his work had very little acceptance.

Reviewing the letters he wrote at that time, you can see how his humor was tinged with deep sadness, which he said he dragged from his time in Scotland and England, and that he apparently shared with his stepmother. He blamed his depressive states for economic scarcity and job insecurity.

However, he himself recognized an abnormal fluctuation in his mood, being able to pass in seconds from the deepest depression to jubilation and exaltation. He described how in those moments of immense joy, his creativity overflowed, he felt inexhaustible and I could spend hours writing with frenzy.

Another of his most famous stories: "The Fall of the Usher House"

Happiness lasts shortly

Despite the lack of financial resources, he enjoyed with Virginia some years of happiness and marital happiness. In 1845 he published his famous poem "El Cuervo", which for some is the most beautiful poem in American literature. Thanks to the success of the poem, he achieved a certain social popularity, although he barely earned a few dollars for his work. But again fate played tricks on him and The tuberculosis, which had already caused the death of his natural mother, made prey in his wife, who died in 1847 at 24 years of age.

This tragic experience, plunged him into severe depression, where he only found solace in alcohol. But soon, not even the ethyl vapors were enough to mitigate his grief, and he fell into a new addiction: the laudanum, which has a high opium content.

Edgar, 38 years old, spent several months shattered by pain. He sought comfort in alcohol, opium and other women like Sara Whitmann, Marie Louise Shew and Ana Heywood. Despite his pain and his disorderly life, he kept writing and published the poem "Ulalume" and his latest book "Eureka". Shortly after, in 1848, he attempted suicide with a massive intake of laudanum, but the emetic effects of the syrup freed him from death due to opioid poisoning.

The best phrases of Edgar Allan Poe

A mysterious death

The writer, recovered from his unsuccessful suicide attempt, returned to Richmond, where he met Sara Elmira Royster, of which he had been in love in his youth. The He proposed marriage and she accepted, on condition that she quit alcohol and his chaotic life.

They set the date of marriage for October 19, 1849 and for a few days he was exultant of happiness through the streets of Richmond. A few days later, he lost his track and appeared in Baltimore, in a state of sleeplessness, with clothes that were not his own, delirious and with intense anguish and agitation. He was admitted to a Baltimore hospital and on October 7, when twelve days left for the wedding he died. His death, today, remains a mystery. The last words that came from his lips were: "May God have mercy on my poor soul."

The alcohol in Poe's life

Although many authors have considered Poe as an alcoholic writer, everything seems to indicate that he was not an alcoholic. At least, in the sense that we give it today: a person dependent on drinking, who needs to drink daily to calm his anxiety. Some authors, such as Pearl, among others, seem to confirm that Poe suffered what in medicine is known as pathological drunkenness. This is a medical picture, where the subject before the intake of small doses of alcohol, experiences deep mood swings, psychomotor alterations and even delusional pictures. Well, according to Pearl, in the case of Edgar Allan Poe, the intake of a small glass of wine was enough, to move from depression to manic excitement, although sometimes the opposite could happen.

Poe drawing based on a daguerreotype of the time

Edgar's father was a chronic alcoholic, and the effects of alcohol, in addition to strongly affecting his personality, are reflected in all his work. Thus we see how in "The Black Cat", the protagonist, under the influence of alcohol, commits horrible crimes.

The tuberculous hemoptysis of his mother, and his early death, when he was just a baby, had to leave a deep and painful imprint on the mood of the writer. Thus, when his wife became ill with tuberculosis, blood vomiting rekindled childhood traumas. Poe himself confesses in a letter, that he went mad with pain and gave himself to the drink. His enemies blamed his madness on excess drinking. Poe says they were wrong because it was madness that pushed him to drink.

Was Edgar Allan Poe epileptic?

In the time of Poe, the known epilepsy, it was what we now call great bad type seizures, where the individual suffers from generalized seizures, loss of consciousness and sphincter incontinence. However, the epilepsy we know today as temporal epilepsy was not known until years later when, in 1981, it was described by the English neurologist John Hughlings Jackson.

In the epilepsy of temporal lobe focused motor automatisms appear, which can be followed by periods of obnubilation, and sometimes visual hallucinations.

Apparently, a doctor who looked after his wife told him he could suffer from epilepsy. Poe presented a marked facial asymmetry, which could be explained by fetal suffering during childbirth. At that time the death of the child or mother, during childbirth, was not a rarity.

It is not surprising that a child, the result of a complicated birth, had also suffered some brain damage. This could explain the asymmetry in the face by a possible facial paralysis. Likewise, a temporal lobe lesion would not be unlikely. In the case of Poe alcohol intake could act as a trigger for the commission crises.

This could explain the masterful descriptions of pathologies that we have in his works. Poe describes and perfectly reflects the symptoms that appear in some forms of temporal epilepsy. This is what we see in his story "The Well and the Pendulum", where the protagonist is tortured by the Inquisition. During the torment he suffers a picture of complex visual hallucinations, which ends with a loss of consciousness. In his poem "Berenice" the protagonists suffer from epilepsy. The work describes a clear epileptic picture, followed by a subsequent amnesia.

Bipolar disorder

It seems clear, as follows from his own writings, that Poe suffered a bipolar disorder. The disorder was evident, especially when consuming alcohol. Poe had a tendency to depressive states, which in his words was brought from Scotland. Faced with feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and vital sadness, Poe turned to alcohol. A small dose was enough to move from depression to manic state, with verbiage and hyperactivity. Both major depression and bipolar disorder are frequently associated with alcoholism and drug abuse..

Theories about his death

There is no unanimity about the cause of his mysterious death, after appearing oblivious and raving through the streets of Baltimore. For his detractors a relapse in his ethyl habits was the cause of his pitiful situation. Against this thesis, there is the fact that he had not been drinking for months. In addition, he had become a member of an abstemious club in Baltimore. The doctor who treated him, shortly before his death, said he had no ethyl breath. In fact they offered him a glass of wine, thinking that he was suffering from a “deliriun tremens” picture due to alcoholic deprivation. Poe, although in a confusional state, rejected the drink.

The other thesis that is considered, as most likely, is that of a state of hallucinatory obnubilation, ensued after a crisis of temporal epilepsy. Nor can it be ruled out that he suffered a head injury, the result of some fall (from alcohol or epilepsy) and this would have caused an intracranial hematoma. This could condition an extremely serious epileptic status that ended his life.

Many years have passed since his death and there is no certainty about the cause of death. On the contrary, there is an absolute unanimity about the genius of his work.

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